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Cardiologist weighs in on study linking painkillers and increased heart attack risk

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Dr. Michael Farkouh on CTV News Channel
Dr. Michael Farkouh, cardiologist, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, was recently interviewed on CTV News about a new study linking common painkillers to an increased risk of heart attack. (Photo: UHN/PMCC)

 

Patients taking common painkillers could be unknowingly putting themselves at an increased risk for a heart attack.

A new study from The BMJ (The British Medical Journal) found that all oral, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen, can increase the risk of a heart attack. The study reviewed more than 400,000 patients from Canadian and European healthcare databases.  

The risk was found to be greatest during the first month of use and when taken in high doses.  

Overall, the study found that the risk of heart attack increased 20 per cent to 50 per cent if using NSAIDs compared to not using these medications.  As a result, the risk of heart attack due to NSAIDs is one per cent annually. The observational study was based on drug-prescribing or dispensing—meaning not all influential factors could be taken into account.   

Dr. Michael Farkouh, cardiologist, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, was recently interviewed about the study and what patients need to know.  

"This study really highlights the importance of (knowing that even) small doses taken for (short) durations of time are associated with some risks," Dr. Farkouh told CTV News. 

These medications can cause an increase in blood pressure, affecting blood vessels and how they function. Dr. Farkouh said part of the problem is that doctors do not keep track of the non-prescription medications patients take. 

"For any of us in the cardiovascular community, we don't take an inventory of the over-the-counter medicines," he said.

"So, those of us that deal with heart attacks, strokes, and prevention, make sure that we ask people about over-the counter-use of these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs."  

Dr. Farkouh encouraged patients to learn about the medication they're taking and to be aware of dosage and frequency.

"The take home message here is to take the drug with the least frequency and the lowest dosage," he said. 

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